As a whole, I really liked The Watchmen; I thought it captured the feel of the comic book and I got sucked into the film's world just as I did when I read the book. It seems like a panel-for-panel remake, or at least the panels that made it into the movie. And the actors were made up to look exactly like the characters; I almost gasped when I saw Dreiberg (Night Owl II) for the first time. (I saw Little Children earlier this winter and could totally picture Patrick Wilson in the role, that is, if he gained some flab, which he did. Even more impressive, instead of being lazy and just gaining a beer belly, it looks like he bulked up and then let himself go, just like Dreiberg did.)
But perfect facades only get you so far. I felt kind of bored until they showed Dr. Manhattan's backstory, which was about half-way though the two hour, 40 minute movie. Up till that point, the movie was a Disney theme park version of the book. Everything was wondrous and looked exactly as it should, but much of it was without soul. Maybe if I hadn't just read the book this past August, and had time to forget the specifics, I would have enjoyed the first half more.
Then Billy Crudup woke me up with his aching portrayal of Dr. Manhattan. Dr. Manhattan is slipping away from humanity as he tries to understand its place in the universe. His approach is too practical; he's looking from the outside in and wants humanity to fit into his idea of what the order of the universe is as if it were a cog in a watch and is frustrated and tormented when the pieces don't fit. But when he brings Laurie to Mars and an important piece of her past is revealed, he sees humanity through her eyes, from the inside out, and realizes how improbable it is that she came into being, how improbable it is that every person comes into being. He calls it a miracle, something that can't be explained by pure scientific reasoning or by a watchmaker's practicality. Crudup doesn't overplay Dr. Manhattan's detachment; he could have easily sounded like an automaton, but instead he sounds more like a bemused observer trying to understand what it's all about. I wish the movie allowed the rest of the characters to be that intriguing, as they are in the book.
Zack Snyder needed even more run time than the 2:40 to make this into an excellent movie. He could have taken a deeper dive, used the medium of film to tell the story in a slightly different way than the book, instead of worrying about making it look perfect. But the movie is still wonderful to look at and rings true to the spirit of The Watchmen.